There has been a lot of change at first base in recent years. Just a few seasons ago names like Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Adrian Gonzalez were among the first off the board at the position. Those players have moved aside though, and suddenly the first base position looks a lot different. Young players that can hit for average as well as power have entered the league, and while a few of the old stars remain, behind them is a lot of potential, both for greatness and for disappointment.
Who should you target at first base this year?
Note: These rankings are for standard roto leagues, with eligibility based on 20 games played at the position in 2017
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt may be the best hitter on the planet. A perennial 30+ homer slugger is what first base was made for, but it is those steals that makes Goldschmidt so special for his position in fantasy baseball. In a league that is phasing out the stolen base, any player capable of posting a 30-30 season (which he did in 2016) is pure gold.
While his running may be dampened from those heights, with the potential for 15+ steals to go along with elite numbers at the plate makes Goldschmidt the undoubted #1 first baseman in your standard roto leagues.
2. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
If your league used OBP instead of average, there is an argument to put Votto over Goldschmidt, but if you are just in an old standard league, then he is very much a tier below.
Votto will turn 35 in September, so every season now brings an increased risk that his bat speed falls off the cliff. He will always have a discerning eye at the plate, and that will help stave off the worst of any decline, but just know it is coming. Still, hopes are high for Votto despite the Reds likely to be a sub-.500 team.
3. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
|Runs ||Home Runs||RBI||Steals||Average|
There is a very, very small gap between Votto and both Freeman and Rizzo. You could swap the order around and I wouldn't really blame you.
Freeman carries some injury risk, with two of his last three seasons being limited to 118 and 117 games, that immediately hurts Freeman's counting stats, as does the lack of reliable hitters around him. However, there is a chance that Freeman could be dealt at the deadline, giving you two months of Freeman in the heart of a quality lineup. Even if he stays in Atlanta for the whole of 2018, he is a quality hitter whose last full year (2015) saw him smash 34 homers with a .302 average, and that is always welcome. He is in his peak years now, so getting your hands on him now is no bad thing.
4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Like Freeman, Rizzo is in the prime of his career. At 28, and with 3,895 major league plate appearances under his belt we know what kind of player Rizzo is, and that is a 30-33 homer, .270-.285 average hitter.
It doesn't sound like a lot, but combine that with a strong lineup around him to boost the counting stats and you have someone that could easily outperform his projections in 2018. He has been a remarkably consistent player the last few years for the Cubs, but improved plate discipline in 2017 suggests there is more to come in 2018.
5. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger had a ridiculous rookie season. His tremendous bat speed and uppercut swing created long-ball magic, despite a traditionally homer-depressing home ballpark. The question, of course, is if he can replicate the power in 2018, and maybe improve that average?
I'm not so sure. A full offseason for opposing pitchers to find holes in his swing, together with a weight of expectation on his shoulders and some instability in things like exit velocity that helped fuel his power suggests there is a regression on the way. That could be dampened by a full season's worth of plate appearances, but still, if you pay for 50 home runs on draft day you could well be disappointed.
6. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
At 35, Encarnacion is as well-known a fantasy player as there is. You get power and not much else.
2017 was Encarnacion's first year outside of Toronto as a fantasy-relevant player, and while his power numbers finished where owners expected them to be, there was a very nervy first month-plus of the season as he hit just four homers (and one double) through April, along with a dire .200 average. His season was one of hot and cold streaks, and that can be highly frustrating for owners. Expect a similar season this year, only with a continued drop in average. If the power dries up as well then be ready to run far from him in mid-summer.
7. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Abreu is about as safe a first baseman as there is. He hasn't hit below .290 in the Majors, and while there was a slight power dip in 2016 he rebounded solidly last year. 30 homers and 100 RBI, and maybe a couple of steals, is almost a lock for Abreu, who has played at least 154 games in each of the last three years.
The only question is if he stays on the South Side for the whole year. With 2020 marking his free agency eligibility the White Sox may well cash in on his bat before then with a big trade.
8. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
Hoskins is far from a household name, but that may not last long. He mashed 18 homers last year with a ridiculous 31.6% HR/FB ratio. That is entirely unsustainable but even if it dips, he is likely to be a serious power bat in the league.
There is a slight worry in that opposing pitchers figured him out toward the end of last season, but with a full offseason to hone his skills and fix some holes in his swing there is a good chance that Hoskins hammers 30+ homers if he stays healthy. He shouldn't kill you in average even if he has a sophomore slump, and there is a slim chance he ends up being a positive there too. Plus, with Carlos Santana at first base in Philadelphia, he will also be outfield eligible.
9. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
The biggest let down of free agency for fantasy players what that Eric Hosmer landed in San Diego.
Hosmer was already not a prolific home run hitter, but back-to-back years of 25 bombs are likely to end now he is a Padre. Still, if your roster needs some help with average and has decent power potential already, then Hosmer is a very good fit. He improved his contact rate, walk rate, and strikeout rate in 2017, and if that continues in 2018 he could well hit .310+ again, which will help make up for that relative lack of power.
10. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
|2018 projection|| 82||28||86||0||.252|
Smoak's 2017 campaign was the long-awaited breakout year. He smashed 38 homers, hit for a good average, and was a godsend to fantasy owners. The question is if this is the new normal or just an anomaly. There are signs it could well be a new level of play.
Smoak was vocal about changes he made in approach last year, and improvements in contact rate and hard-hit rate all combined to create those 38 homers and .270 average. If he replicates that he will be good value as the 10th overall first baseman, and there is a solid possibility he ends the season as a more valuable fantasy player than Hoskins and Hosmer. He is just a volatile prospect at this point, and there will be players willing to pay immediately for his 2017 production this year, which I would not be.